O Canada Blogathon Cinema Shame Special : Niagara (1953)

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This site, Cinema Shame, is usually about highlighting films one has never seen before. For this blogathon, I’m doing something a little different; I’m reviewing a movie which I have seen, which I’m hoping I can get other people to see, because I think it’s a shame if they miss out on it. In keeping with this Blogathon’s subject matter, I’m looking at a movie set in Canada. Specifically, the 1953 suspense thriller Niagara.

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Niagara is the story of a young newlywed couple, Polly and Ray Cutler (Jean Peters, Max Showalter) who arrive at Niagara Falls for a combination honeymoon/business trip. Their neighbours include George Loomis (Joseph Cotten) and his much younger wife Rose (Marilyn Monroe). The Cutler’s become friends with Rose, not knowing that she has a plan to murder her husband with the help of a lover.  When George disappears, everyone feels sympathy for Rose. However, Polly becomes entangled in the plot when she runs into George after his disappearance, and can’t convince anyone else she saw him. The movie’s twists and turns lead to a desperate boat chase in the river above the Falls.

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Niagara was directed by Henry Hathaway, a Hollywood veteran of both westerns and film noirs. His earlier films include Kiss of Death (1947) and The House on 92nd Street (1945). Niagara is, by all accounts, a noir, despite its being in Technicolor. The Falls are very much a feature of the film, and are used very well. The cabins in which both couples are staying were built specifically for the film, and they command an amazing view of the Falls. They were later removed after filming. Getting a little closer, The Walk Behind The Falls plays a very important part of the film, as it’s where Rose and her lover plan for George to die in an accident.  Rainbow Tower is also a key setting for the film, as it’s where Rose is finally confronted by George after his supposed death.

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 Speaking of Rose, a word needs to be said about how important Niagara was to Marilyn Monroe, and she to it. This movie marks the first time Marilyn ever got top billing, and it’s a rare dramatic role for her. 1953 was a very good year for Marilyn’s movies, as Niagara would be followed by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How To Marry A Millionaire. Marilyn, though, probably saw little of the success. Even though she was the film’s lead actress, Marilyn was still a stock player for 20th Century Fox, meaning she was paid a weekly salary (she wouldn’t become a contract star for another 3 years).   The producers behind Niagara, though, wanted the movie to highlight Marilyn, both as a character and an actress.

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Marilyn’s costuming in Niagara was all very form fitting, and it was often filmed to highlight Marilyn’s features. The film holds the record for the longest walk recorded on film (116 feet of film), and it consists entirely of Marilyn walking away from the camera. It’s also been said that the director cut down Marilyn’s heels for the walk so she would sway more than usual. Whether true or not, Marilyn is more than just a pretty woman in Niagara. As Rose Loomis, she plays her part very well, going from seductive femme fatale to fearful victim through the story. The whole cast play their parts very well, and the whole story is well-told, up to a point.

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If there’s a problem with Niagara, it’s with the timing of the story. With the focus on Marilyn Monroe, one of the biggest moments in the film is going to be the confrontation between her and Joseph Cotten after he escapes the death she planned for him.  The buildup to the meeting is very well-done, as we see Rose start to panic and seek a way out of Canada as fast as possible. George finds her and, after a bit of a chase, corners her under the bells in the Rainbow Tower. It’s a dynamite scene, filmed beautifully in color with all the trappings of noir. It would serve as a great finale to any film. Unfortunately, though, there’s about 15-20 minutes left. By this time, there’s a manhunt on for George, and he somehow manages to find his way to the same area where the Cutlers are going for the boat ride. This leads to George taking Polly hostage on a boat, and they end up drifting towards the Falls. George manages to get Polly to safety, but he ends up going over the Falls. The idea that these two somehow manage to end up at the same location for this to happen is stretching credibility just a bit, and feels just a bit pointless. Still, I think the film is definitely worth a watch. Not everyone thought so, however.

Marilyn’s costuming, as mentioned before, was very form-fitting, and the movie played them up to their advantage. Religious groups, however, felt the movie was indecent, and banned it upon release. Another complaint came from the Ontario MPP for Niagara, William Limburg Houck. He took a very dim view of the movie when it was announced, afraid that a story full of sexuality and murder would harm Niagara’s reputation and position as a tourist destination. His was a dissenting opinion, though; most everyone else in the Ontario government backed the film wholeheartedly, and to this day, it’s considered an important part of Niagara’s tourist history. You can even stay in Marilyn Monroe’s hotel room if you want (room 801 of the Niagara Falls Crowne Plaza, once the General Brock hotel). The movie, all in all, did justice to both the natural beauty of Niagara Falls, and of its lead actress, Marilyn Monroe.

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My 2015 Watchlist in full…

Hello again, everyone.

Just doing some account keeping. I have my March title safely watched, but I’m slightly behind on my essay (I hope to have it done by next week). I figured it was time to finally decide what I’m going to watch for the rest of the year.  There’s a fair balance between movies that have been sitting in my collection for a while and new ones that have just come into my collection.  August is going to be a busy month, but a challenge I’m looking forward to. I thought for sure I’d have picked a Clint Eastwood film to watch, but my gut told me otherwise. See you seen with my take on Safety Last! (spoiler alert: I loved it).

 

January – Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) – Mission Completed

February – Frozen (2013) – Mission Completed

March – Safety Last! (1923)

April – Sister My Sister (1994)

May – Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)

June – The Alphabet Murders (1965)

July – Miller’s Crossing (1990)

August – Harry Palmer films – The Ipcress File/Funeral in Berlin/Billion-Dollar Brain (1965, 1966, 1967)

September – Suddenly (1954)

October – Se7en (1995) (2014 catchup)/Prom Night (1980)

November – Mean Streets (1973) (2014 catchup)/Room For One More (1952)

December – Notorious (1946)

February 2015 – Frozen (2013)

Frozen

 

I have a confession to make: I’m not a huge fan of Disney animation. I say this even though Wide World of Disney was essential TV viewing for me every week growing up. I delighted in the cartoons of Mickey, Donald, Goofy and the rest, but never took to them the same way I took to Bugs and the Gang over at Warner Bros.  All those classics like Cinderella, Snow White, Fantasia and the like? Never seen them. I can count the number of non-Pixar Disney animation films I’ve seen on one hand. I don’t know why I’ve never seen them; they just don’t really appeal to me.  Maybe it’s the curmudgeon in me, but I just find that I’m not interested in the stories they tell.  They all have the same narrative.

Which leads me to Frozen.

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Frozen is the story of two sisters, Elsa and Anna, princesses for the Kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa, the eldest, is going to someday become Queen. As children, Anna and Elsa were the best of friends, sharing everything. One day, that all changed. Elsa has the power to conjure and control intense cold, and as a child, she accidentally injured Anna with it.  The incident was erased from Anna’s memory, and Elsa was taught to fear her power, and suppress it. As a result, the two drifted apart, and they cut themselves off from the outside world. Then, after a tragedy, the time of Elsa’s coronation arrives.  A time for celebration, Elsa has the castle reopened for the people to celebrate. During the course of the celebration, however, Elsa’s power is brought out, and the Kingdom is stuck in perpetual winter. Elsa flees, and Anna sets out to bring her back.

I don’t remember if Frozen was a movie I wanted to see in theatres, but given my track record, I’d say likely not.  Over the past year or so, however, it has become somewhat a phenomenon for Disney, and a lot of that had to do with the tone.  While Frozen ostensibly continues the Disney tradition of telling stories about princesses, it is by no means the same old narrative. Elsa is not a princess who requires rescue from an evil villain; Elsa is a princess who needs help understanding herself. The power to control the cold has no explanation; it’s just always been a part of her.  Anna, not knowing about the power, only wants to help.  In the discussions of the film I’ve seen, a lot of them revolve around this film’s message about acceptance and love, both of one’s self and by others.  In a world which seems to continually fight and struggle to suppress a person’s right to be who they are meant to be, this is a powerful message to send, and it’s this message which made me determined to see the film.

After I sat down to watch it, I found Frozen to be a quite enjoyable tale with lots of humour and, if you’ll pardon the expression, warmth. A movie is sometimes only as good as its cast, and this is especially true for animated films.  The story told in Frozen relies on the two sisters; if you don’t believe them, then you have no movie. Fortunately, Kristen Bell (Anna) and Idina Menzel (Elsa) absolutely deliver in their performances.  They make the film a highly memorable one. The relationship between the sisters is completely solid and watchable.  The rest of the cast do a fine job as well, but it’s Anna and Elsa who make Frozen the hit it deserves to be.

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One of the benefits of watching a movie on DVD rather than in theatres is that you sometimes learn more about it that makes you appreciate it all the more. Frozen, for instance, had its partial origins way back in early Disney times, when Walt Disney wanted to do a film based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Ice Queen.  Concept art was created for it, but for one reason or another it was never produced.  I have no doubt that if this film had been created back then, it would be very different to the modern take.  That would have been a travesty. Frozen has a message that needs to be heard.